While county sees increase in fuel use, others see drops

2013-01-06T00:00:00Z 2013-01-06T14:51:03Z While county sees increase in fuel use, others see dropsBob Kasarda and Joyce Russell The Times nwitimes.com
January 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

While Porter County officials blamed rising fuel prices for the need to come up with an additional $250,000 last year, the larger communities in the county were able to live within their budgets.

Portage and Chesterton saw only modest increases in some departments on fuel during the first three quarters of 2012 as compared to 2011. Valparaiso and some Portage departments experienced a drop in costs, according to records provided by those communities.

The department within county government that had the largest increase in fuel consumption during the first eight months of 2012 was animal control, which was moved from the animal shelter to sheriff's department in March 2011.

The animal control officers burned nearly 11 times more fuel in 2012, according to records provided by the county auditor's office.

Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain said the number of animal control officers was increased from two to three when his department took over, and the workload is up as well.

"I know our officers are working much harder," he said.

Officials at the county juvenile detention center have also been busier, which resulted in a 650 percent increase in the amount of fuel used in 2012.

Director Alison Cox said the department enacted a major increase in its house arrest monitoring program at the end of 2011, which increased home visits from 100 to 400 per month.

Using a county-owned vehicle for the trips saves money over paying mileage to employees, she said.

The county highway department, which is responsible for overseeing the maintenance of 815 miles of roads, managed to get through 2012 with $50,000 left over in its $300,000 fuel budget, which was the same amount budgeted the year before.

County Highway Department Supervisor Al Hoagland said while fuel usage varies according to factors such as temperature and the amount of snow fall, he has made efforts to reduce use by cutting back on engine idling time, doubling up workers in vehicles and rerouting vehicles.

Valparaiso spent $457,230 for fuel through the end of October 2011, as compared to $436,574 during the same period in 2012. The largest share of the fuel was used by the public works and police departments.

The public works department used less fuel during the 2012 period in question, which Director Matthew Evans said could be the result of the milder winter.

Other factors have been pretty consistent, including fluctuations in fuel costs between 2011 and 2012, he said.

In Portage, both the police and streets and sanitation departments saw a drop in both the number of gallons used and cost during the first three-quarters of 2012 compared to the same time period in 2011. The fire department saw a slight increase.

The Portage street department used about 4,700 gallons less fuel, saving more than $17,846.

Street Superintendent Steve Charnetzky said it was combination of little things that added up the savings, including introducing a no idling policy, improving maintenance to vehicles which improved their fuel-burning efficiency, a milder winter and changes in some daily scheduling, especially in how they pick up limbs.

Police Chief Troy Williams said the no-idle policy helped the department use about 3,700 fewer gallons of gas, saving almost $12,000. In addition, Williams said, the department was short one officer for that time period, taking one car off the street.

The fire department's usage rose by about 1,300 gallons and $4,000 in costs. Assistant Chief Joe Calhoun said the fire department's usage is up in part because of an increase in runs over the year, about 6.2 percent higher than in 2011. In addition, he said, there was an increase of 6.5 percent in transports to local emergency rooms. Also, more patients, 68 percent in 2012, compared to 56 percent in 2011 chose to go to a hospital other than Porter Portage Hospital Campus.

In Chesterton, the street department is making efforts to save fuel, said superintendent John Schnadenberg.

The department's fuel consumption was up slightly in 2012 over the same time period in 2011. The department used 8,775 gallons of fuel in 2011, costing just over $29,700 compared to 8,910 gallons in 2012, costing $31,400.

To help improve efficiency, he said, the department has changed the way it picks up brush throughout the community.

"Instead of going up and down the streets looking for pick ups, people now have to call in," he said, adding that helps them manage stops more efficiently.

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